All posts by blenon

NOVA Student Success In IET: Willie Brown

NOVA student Willie Brown is flying high in NASA’s Community College Aerospace Scholars Program. From CLRI to FOWA, he’s leaving a trail of success wherever he goes.

We recently settled in for a conversation with Willie, a NOVA IET student and participant in NASA’s Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program. We were eager to delve into his remarkable experience and trace his journey through NOVA IET.

Brown, currently pursuing an A.S. in Information Technology, a C.S.C. for Network Engineering Specialist, and CompTIA Industry Certifications, discovered this excellent opportunity through a Canvas announcement last year. Despite fierce competition among hundreds of community college students, Brown stood out and actively engaged in Mission 1: Discover and Mission 2: Explore within the NCAS virtual experience. To top it off, Brown received an invitation to Mission 3: Innovate-Capstone Project, scheduled to take place at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California!

Mission 1 and Mission 2 are five-week programs, deeply immersing participants in NASA’s missions and STEM careers. Meanwhile, Mission 3 is a three-week endeavor, consisting of a 2-week online segment followed by a one-week residential experience. During this time, scholars like Brown will contribute to NASA’s missions by developing possible solutions to current challenges faced by NASA.

As he embarked on Mission 1, Discover, Brown found himself engrossed in a NASA orientation that set the stage for the subsequent NCAS missions. This phase offered students a comprehensive insight into NASA’s ongoing projects and pathways for involvement.

The online program blends various STEM activities, including expert talks, interactive media, group work, tests, and guidance from seasoned educators, providing students like Brown with an engaging learning experience during Mission 1.

He encourages students to explore the program, noting that Mission 1 is achievable due to its virtual nature. He explained that participants delve into NASA’s directorates and focus on major ongoing projects, such as Artemis.

Artemis II, slated as the first crewed mission to the moon since 1972, is scheduled to launch a year from now. Brown emphasized its significance, stating, “The space program affects life on Earth much more than you might initially think. For example, research takes place on the space station that can be beneficial on Earth. Research topics include plant growth, changes in bone density, chemical processes for the development of medicine, and more. It’s really exciting in addition to the first person of color being on the Artemis II team.”

Transitioning into Mission 2, Explore unfolds as a simulation where students craft solutions for missions to the Moon or Mars. This phase focuses on teaching them the art of balancing choices within set limits. Simultaneously, within the career simulation, students step into mock NASA roles, showcasing the importance of teamwork and personal skills essential for monumental missions, such as exploring the lunar surface.

Brown was a member of the Apollo Green team, tasked with deciphering which rocket to utilize, defining payloads, specifying the mission objectives, selecting landing sites, and managing numerous other crucial elements.

When allocating roles among team members, Brown humorously compared the process to steering clear of the frantic scramble for supplies at the cornucopia in The Hunger Games; in their case, the “cornucopia” encapsulated all the available STEM roles in Exploration. Thankfully, the team swiftly resolved their roles due to time constraints, spurred by the impending presentation of their project.

His role centered on public affairs, necessitating the creation of a marketing plan outlining their approach to disseminating the program to the public. He also strategized on how to keep stakeholders informed about their progress while navigating the challenge of addressing encountered issues without revealing excessive details to other teams.

Amidst his involvement in the NCAS program, Brown’s plate extends far beyond. Besides being a NOVA student, he is deeply engaged in various roles. He serves on the Student Advisory Group for Virginia Workforce Recovery, collaborates with the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, holds positions as a NOVA Corps intern with Alexandria Enrollment Services, and interns with the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative and CACI Corporation.

When questioned about his perspective on the importance of IET fields, he elaborated, “The world has shifted—now, we’re all interconnected through this internet, so there are fundamental things that everyone needs to comprehend in order to protect themselves.”

On doing CLRI at NOVA

Reflecting on his journey at NOVA, Brown highlighted the significance of completing the Career & Leadership Readiness Institute (CLRI). He firmly advocates for its value, stating, “It’s worth the time and energy invested. An absolutely fantastic program—it’s priceless.” He specifically praised several beneficial aspects such as mock interviews, guidance from subject matter experts, insightful visits to data centers, resume assistance, and the invaluable support from Career and Technical Education Coordinator, Andy Chavez, and IET Career Advisor, Sedrick Settle.

Furthermore, the CLRI focuses on imparting soft skills, an aspect Brown noted as crucial irrespective of one’s field. He acknowledged the significance of interpersonal abilities since interaction with people is universal across professions. He identified essential soft skills such as maintaining eye contact, effective communication, active listening, the art of asking questions and seeking clarification, mastering intonation, delivering both positive and negative news, demonstrating respect, and offering basic technical support.

First Place in the Future of Work Academy (FOWA)

Additionally, last fall, Brown participated in the virtual Future of Work Academy (FOWA), an institution specializing in cybersecurity career preparation. Notably, he clinched first place in the FOWA Innovation Incubator Challenge by presenting an idea centered around connecting individuals with limited resources seeking employment opportunities to free community resources. His concept involved establishing virtual cohorts within the community. His focus lay in imparting fundamental typing skills, recognizing its essentiality in today’s landscape.

Engaging in NOVA IET

Regarding advice for those contemplating NOVA’s IET programs, Brown stresses the need to dispel the notion that IT professionals are innate wizards, emphasizing that everyone starts as a learner. His advice is to initiate learning, seek guidance from successful individuals, and craft a solid learning plan, starting without delay.

For non-traditional students, he urges active engagement within the NOVA experience, advocating for the exploration of unfamiliar opportunities. He emphasizes the significance of not holding back academically or experientially due to age differences. In the competitive arena of professional life, he suggests embracing the diverse experiences within the classroom while understanding that they may also be competitors in securing dream jobs.

Highlighting the importance of a support network, Brown acknowledges the influential role of Jack Bidlack, NOVA’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, as a mentor and supporter. “One of my champions is Mr. Bidlack. Anytime something happens to me, I always send him a note to let him know what’s going on. He’s like my cheering section,” he said with a bright smile.

Looking ahead, Brown envisions completing his studies at NOVA and transferring to a four-year university, preferably one with an active honors program or a small liberal arts school offering an engaging environment. He also expresses his commitment to lifelong learning, currently pursuing a mathematics class at NOVA.

 

Spotlight on a NOVA Design Challenge Award Winner

Tariq Aldalou, winner in the post-secondary division, brought in some middle eastern enrichment with his design.

Tariq triumphed in the Design Challenge by creating a unique musical instrument inspired by his origins in Damascus, Syria. He designed a Mini-Oud, a variant of the Arabic Oud, that resembles a lute.

Aldalou’s version, crafted from PLA (polylactic acid filament) using a 3D printer, measures 60cm by 30cm (an Oud traditionally measures 67cm by 36cm). It features lasercut wood hexagon sound holes and maintains the conventional 11 strings of a traditional Oud. To preserve its authenticity, he applied a matte finish and included dust remnants from the sanding process, also creating two smaller prototypes.

Encouraging participation, Tariq advises, “Join the challenge, even if you’re starting from scratch or your tools aren’t perfect. It’s all about learning and growing. My friends and I, despite time constraints, are eager to dive in, ready to embrace mistakes as part of our progress. We encourage everyone to get involved and explore, even with the simplest of ideas.”

Tariq initially got involved when he sought guidance for an engineering project from his physics professor, Francesca Viale. She recommended utilizing the resources at the Fab Lab.

After completing the NOVA Makers course on Canvas, Aldalou took an in-person class led by Kai Le, an evening support specialist. He also received aid from Mihai Ziu, a dual-enrolled high school student, in mastering the Tinkercard program and Autodesk Fusion 360 software.

Additionally, he took an online Zoom course taught by Ziu to become proficient in the Prusa slicer. Currently, he dedicates two evenings a week, from 5 pm to 9 pm, to his lab projects.

Aldalou shared, “I’m involved in various projects, including circuit design and signal transmission. I tend to procrastinate, but the deadline for the design challenge kept me focused.”

With the design challenge behind him, Aldalou is now focusing on a remote-controlled plane project, echoing his childhood passion for making and selling toy planes in Syria. In those days, he applied simple mathematics and basic materials like glue sticks, A4 paper, pens, scissors, and paper clips to bring his creations to life.

Pursuing degrees in engineering and math, Aldalou’s initial career aspirations leaned towards piloting. However, frequent relocations and a desire for family time shifted his focus to computer engineering, fueled by his love for math and experience in building computers in Lebanon.

He credits his NOVA success to professors like Viale and Chinthaka Hettitantri, his calculus instructor, and appreciates the ongoing support from his high school counselor, Michael Todd, and the Fab Lab team, especially Kai Le.

Aldalou aims to graduate from NOVA this year with associate degrees in engineering and math, planning to transfer to George Mason University for a bachelor’s degree in computer science. His ultimate goal is a PhD in mathematics, aspiring to make significant contributions to quantum computing.

 

Design Challenge Winners Awarded

In early February, winning students for NOVA’s 5th bi-annual Design Challenge were honored at an award ceremony at the Fab Lab. The challenge this time was for middle school, high school, and post-secondary students to design and fabricate a unique musical instrument.

Mary Ratcliff, Fab Lab coordinator and organizer of this year’s challenge, said, “I didn’t realize I had put together the toughest challenge yet. Not only did I ask students to create a one-of-a-kind unique product, but I also required that it produce repeatable, predictable sounds.”

There were awards for participants at each school level, with NOVA students Ethan Cortes and Tariq Aldalou taking home the grand champion and post-secondary division titles, respectively.

Ethan Cortes from NOVA was named the Grand Champion with his innovative creation, the “Tri-Blown.” With a deep passion for brass instruments, Ethan designed an instrument that covers the full spectrum of brass sounds. Made from 3D printed PLA and tubing, the “Tri-Blown” can switch between three tubes and adjustable mouthpieces, emulating the deep resonance of a tuba, the rich tones of a trombone, and the bright notes of a trumpet—all in one instrument.

Cortes enthusiastically recommends the Design Challenge, noting his efforts to encourage participation among his STEM friends, despite their time constraints. He found the experience both enjoyable and educational, enhancing his skills in 3D printing and Autodesk Inventor design. “Winning aside, the experience has been incredibly valuable for my education and future. I’m grateful for being named the grand champion and look forward to involving my friends in the next event,” he said.

Tariq Aldalou, representing NOVA, clinched the Design Challenge title in the Post-Secondary Division with his innovative Mini Oud, made from 3D printed PLA and laser-cut wood. Tariq’s creation raises the bar for future competitions. Encouraging participation, Tariq advises, “Join the challenge, even if you’re starting from scratch or your tools aren’t perfect. It’s all about learning and growing. My friends and I, despite time constraints, are eager to dive in, ready to embrace mistakes as part of our progress. We encourage everyone to get involved and explore, even with the simplest of ideas.”

Sawyer Degregori and Trevor MacDuffee from Woodgrove High School were crowned the High School Division Champions for their creation, the “Double Quena.” Made from PVC, their design offers a contemporary twist on one of the oldest known instruments, the whistle, resulting in a flute-like instrument that has gained popularity within their school. Trevor shared, “All of the band students have really enjoyed playing it.”

Max Choe, representing Kilmer Middle School, was named the Middle School Division Champion for his creation, the “Air Keys.” Crafted from 3D printed PLA and integrated with microelectronics, this innovative instrument features small caps for the fingers. By flexing the fingers within these caps, users can produce sounds reminiscent of piano keys. The “Air Keys” stand out for their creative design, merging technology and traditional musical elements in a novel way.

The panel of judges for the challenge included Ilya Tëmkin, a professor at NOVA; Justin Owen, the NOVA IET CTE Coordinator; Chris Russell, Project Manager for the Information and Technologies division at NOVA; and David Tuohey, a Senior Process Engineer at BAE Systems in Manassas. BAE Systems has generously supported the design challenges through financial sponsorship since 2022.

Opened in January 2020, the Fab Lab stands as a premier makerspace welcoming students, faculty, staff from NOVA, and the broader educational community. It is dedicated to enhancing knowledge of digital fabrication by providing access to advanced fabrication techniques and 3D modeling training. The Fab Lab focuses on Design Thinking and problem-solving to foster innovation skills, launching a design challenge in Spring 2021 to encourage creative solutions to a specific issue.

The Next Challenge

Looking ahead to the next event, Physics Professor Elena Ziu and her son, Mihai, both avid NOVA Makers, will be lending their expertise to the upcoming spring design challenge. This challenge calls for participants to design a product to help improve the well-being of an animal.

Entries will be evaluated based on creativity, aesthetics, feasibility, and effectiveness. The competition is open to middle school, high school, homeschool, and post-secondary students, welcoming individual participants or teams of up to three.

The submission deadline is set for April 14. The Grand Champion will be awarded a Prusa MK4 3D Printer, while each Division Champion will receive a Prusa Mini+. For more details and to submit your entry, visit: https://www.nvcc.edu/academics/divisions/iet/fablab.html.

NOVA Student Success in IET Spotlight

NOVA student Prasit Acharya met with us during his lunch break from Capital Power Group (CPG), a data center service provider in Ashburn. We sat down to discuss his success in completing NOVA’s Career & Leadership Readiness Institute (CLRI) and his internships at Vantage and CPG. Despite not having graduated from NOVA yet, Acharya has already secured a full-time position at CPG as an NOC Service Coordinator. Currently pursuing an associate degree in Information Technology (IT), he plans to complete his studies this year.

Acharya first learned about the CLRI program through an email from Andy Chavez, NOVA’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) director. His immediate interest in the internship opportunity led him to enroll. He’s immensely glad he didーduring the program, he acquired a plethora of skills, including communication, professionalism, leadership, accountability, resume creation, and more. Additionally, Acharya forged lasting friendships with peers that endure to this day, and his confidence experienced a significant boost.

The resume builder workshop held particular significance for Acharya. Notable tips that resonated with him included the emphasis on listing accomplishments rather than just job tasks. For instance, if you held a position as a cashier at a grocery store, the advice was to focus on how you contributed to your team rather than simply stating that you scanned items. Additionally, for those without extensive work experience, the workshop emphasized the importance of highlighting your educational achievements.

One of the mottos of the CLRI is “every day is a job interview,” and this resonated strongly with Acharya. He explained, “It’s important to act professionally because you don’t know who you’re going to meet, especially in this area. We toured data centers and met directors. Even though it was just a pleasant introduction, that initial contact can open the door to opportunities.”

Another significant aspect of the CLRI program was the networking event, where students had the opportunity to meet representatives from various companies, including Google, Course 1, Prince William County Department of IT, and more.

Acharya expressed that he would have missed out on many opportunities if not for the CLRI. In fact, it was through the CLRI that he met Professor TJ Ciccone, which prompted him to register for the Data Center Operations class—a crucial stepping-stone to the internship through Advancing IT and Data Center Infrastructure (AFCOM), an association dedicated to the career advancement of IT and data center professionals.

Reflecting on the program, he remarked, “I learned the basics of professionalism in the real world. I feel like that was a big thing for me, especially coming right out of high school.”

Acharya encourages IET students to register for CLRI, stating, “I can’t thank Chavez and Cedric Settle, NOVA’s IET Career Advisor, enough. They care about every student. Chavez organizes get-togethers and Settle reaches out personally. They want you to succeed.”

Most significantly, CLRI led to Acharya’s 5-week internship at Vantage and a subsequent 5-week internship at Capital Power Group (CPG) through AFCOM.

At Vantage, he shadowed the operations team responsible for checking the BMS and HVAC systems. One task that he particularly enjoyed was trying on an arc flash suit used for critical switch manipulation.

He explained, “In class, we covered switching from the online maintenance bypass in the UPS system. I actually got to do that live, in person, with actual repercussions if something were to go wrong. I mean, there’s nothing that’s going to happen, but once you have that suit on, it feels real.”

“In class, there’s a rack, but it’s not live. When I flipped the switch, I had to look away in case something exploded. Of course, the manager was watching, but they let me handle a large portion of it,” he added.

At CPG, he shadowed not only the operations team but also the project management and HVAC teams. The operations team is responsible for determining the projects that need attention, assessing project costs, determining the required number of contractors, and overseeing the self-service tasks that need completion.

While the majority of the internship took place during the day, he also worked overnight shifts because the units required constant monitoring.

In terms of individuals who had a positive influence on him during the internship, Acharya mentioned his mentor, Kenny Bland, who serves as a service delivery manager at CyrusOne. They met weekly to discuss the progress of the internship.

While he gained a wealth of knowledge during the internships, what stood out was learning effective teamwork, improving communication skills, gaining insights into the workings of a data center, and more. At both placements, Acharya felt warmly welcomed and considered himself an integral part of the team.

Regarding the biggest challenge, he explained that familiarizing himself with all the various systems posed the most significant hurdle.

It was during his time at CBG, while shadowing both the operations and project management teams, that he realized this was an area he would like to pursue because it involves working directly with customers.

Acharya encourages IET students to complete an internship and advocate for what they want. “NOVA has internships going on year-round, so take one and learn from it. Even if you don’t like it, you’ll still learn, and you might get paid a little bit along the way. It’s a win-win,” he explained.

During his internship at CPG, a NOC Service Coordinator position opened up, prompting him to contact the hiring manager to express his interest. Clearly, he made a significant impression because he was offered the job before his internship had even ended.

As for future education and career goals, after graduating with an IT associate degree from NOVA, Acharya plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree. He holds a particular interest in data science and identity management. His ultimate dream is to work for Facebook, Apple, or Google. With his remarkable achievements in such a short amount of time, the sky’s the limit.

IET New Employee Spotlights

We recently brought on two new full-time members to our team, Justin Owen and J. Braden Traw.

Justin Owen, IET Career and Technical Education Coordinator

Justin joined the NOVA IET team in late 2023. A Danville native, Justin has over 17 years of experience in the manufacturing sector and higher education. His most significant industrial experience came from Babcock and Wilcox Technologies, a manufacturer of Naval nuclear components. In addition, he has also served as an Instructor of Precision Machining Technology for Pittsylvania County Schools and most recently Danville Community College. In these positions, Justin cultivated dual enrollment pipelines, led career and technical student organizations, developed credential-based accelerated training for the defense industry, and set goals of helping students find their careers in the skilled workforce. Justin holds multiple industry certifications, an Associate of Applied Science in Integrated Machining Technology from Danville Community College, and a Bachelor of Applied Science in Business Administration from Averett University. In his spare time, Justin enjoys his family, outdoor activities, and looks forward to exploring all that Northern Virginia has to offer.

Justin can be reached at jlowen@nvcc.edu


J. Braden Traw, IET Recruitment and Engagement Specialist

Braden is excited to support NOVA’S IET department’s goals of increasing student recruitment and engagement. He is particularly excited to support underrepresented groups that have historically experienced barriers in engaging with STEM fields. Previously he has worked with special needs children in a variety of educational and supportive capacities. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Film and Video Studies from George Mason University with a minor in Creative Writing. In his free time he likes reading books, writing poetry, and learning about history.

Contact Braden at jtraw@nvcc.edu

 

NOVA STEM Day Returns!

Story by NOVA IET’s STEM Writer Kristy Gillespie

NOVA STEM Day, a staple at Northern Virginia Community College from 2015 to 2019, returned this year on December 2nd at the Loudoun Campus Higher Education Center.

STEM Day showcases a range of engaging activities and interactive exhibits for children from 5-12 to inspire an early interest in STEM. This year, after a 4-year absence, the community’s enthusiasm for the event was evident, with over 350 people, including parents and children, in attendance.

One of the event’s highlights was the Science Stunt Show presented by NVCC’s Dean of Science, Mike Davis, affectionately known as “Mr. Wizard,” who fondly referred to the kids as “future scientists.” At the beginning of one of the experiments, Davis humorously asked for donations of money. He then proceeded to coat the money in a protective chemical before seemingly burning it during the demonstration. The show featured a variety of experiments, ranging from exploding powders to glowing liquids, liquid nitrogen, dry ice, and more. The room was filled with enthusiastic families, with laughter, applause, and excitement, children hopping in their seats, exclaiming “do it again!”

Cliff Li, accompanied by his 10-year-old daughter Rosie and 7-year-old son Howard, expressed after the Science Stunt Show, “It’s been a lot of fun. It makes learning more effective and is beneficial for parents. Kids often have a hard time focusing, but my 7-year-old son, Howard, managed to focus for over twenty minutes. It’s a great program.” Howard shared that his favorite part of the show was the water and spray lighter rocket, while Rosie said, “I look forward to my science teachers doing experiments like this!”

There were numerous additional NOVA-hosted activities. These included NOVA SySTEMic, where students engaged in activities such as driving a VEX IQ or a VRC robot, building and racing their own wooden cars, learning coding with Awbie, playing Tangram games, and exploring information about upcoming 2024 summer STEM camps. The Labs Maker School allowed students to construct and test their own sail cars powered by wind. The Psychology Department offered sessions where students delved into how the brain processes sensory information, while the Math Department provided an opportunity for students to create geometric artwork using equations, among other activities.

The event also featured participation from the Loudoun County Public Library, George Washington University Information Technology, the Children’s Science Center Lab, and the Pigeon Bots Robotic Team.

Simultaneously, various NVCC departments hosted events at the Loudoun Science Building. In the Biology Department, students explored the anatomy of a dissected shark and various shark-related objects. They were also invited to examine numerous biological models, specimens, and skeletal displays. The Chemistry Department showcased chemical reactions and volcanic experiments, while Geology offered an exhibit featuring earth science materials and equipment. Horticulture provided a hands-on project where students constructed their own bee houses. The Veterinary Department provided insight into the care techniques employed by veterinary technicians. Additionally, utilizing principles of physics and engineering, students in the Physics Department built and floated their own boats and engaged in racing soda can cars using electrostatic force.

Lots of parents and children were excited about the return of STEM Day. One parent, Alison Entis, joined by her 11-year-old son Thomas, said, “I would love to see them organize more activities and events like this.” Thomas added, “It’s been really fun learning about new things. My favorite part was building a wind car, placing it in front of a fan, and testing it.”

Ying Li, another parent shared her feedback: “I prefer my kids to learn about science. I encouraged my friends to come to this event. I love it.” Li brought along her 11-year-old son Jayden and her 10-year-old son Lawrence.

Another enthusiastic parent, Tina Karja said, “It’s been amazing. My 5-year-old daughter Rosie is having a great day. She’s fascinated by the interactive lectures and hands-on activities.”

Seven-year-old Max Bean, attending with his family, shared, “I think people should come here. I love science, math, and learning about animals like wild cats.”

The STEM Day organizers acknowledged the numerous supportive participants and eagerly anticipated next year’s event.Natasha Schuh-Nuhfer, NOVA’s STEM Education Coordinator, said, “STEM Day at the Loudoun campus would not have been made possible without the amazing NOVA faculty, staff, and student volunteers who gave their time on a Saturday to excite the youth in the community to the joys and wonder of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Seeing the smiles and hearing the laughter from kids and parents alike as they explored the hands-on activities provided by NOVA faculty as well as outside exhibitors was a great way to begin the month of December and close out 2023. We look forward to 2024 and an even bigger STEM Day at NOVA’s Loudoun campus!”

Part of STEM Day’s significance is early engagement that leads to further educational pathways in STEM. Students who enjoyed STEM Day and are eager for more exploration can be signed up this January for NOVA SySTEMic’s summer STEM Camps, running next June through August. Camps will include Robotics, Coding, Rocketry, Arduino, Cybersecurity, Fabrication, and more and will have offerings for rising 4th through 12th graders.

Sign up for the NOVA IET monthly newsletter at http://newsletter.novastem.us to get up-to-date information on STEM Camp registration and upcoming STEM Days!

Paid PWCS IT Internships for NOVA IET Students

Through December 13th, there are excellent PAID internship opportunities for Northern Virginia Community College students who are currently enrolled in an IET program of study (Cybersecurity, IT Help Desk, Cloud Computing, Computer Science, and more).

Prince William County Public Schools (PWCS) is offering multiple Information Technology (IT) Support Technician internships that will begin during the spring 2024 semester.

This internship involves working under the general guidance of experienced PWCS Technical Support Specialists to assist students, teachers and staff on-site with hardware and software issues at one or more PWCS locations.

Students will gain hands-on experience in IT support while contributing to the efficient operation of a school’s technology infrastructure.

The internship will operate during regular daytime business hours and interns will be paid $20/hr with a maximum earning of $3000.

Apply by December 13 through the NOVA Career Connection portal

More about NOVA IET at https://www.nvcc.edu/academics/divisions/iet/index.html

#InDemandTech #InformationTechnology #Internships #InformationTechnology #Nighthawks

PWCS IT Intern Now Working at NOVA in IT

Fatima Shareen comes full circle from NOVA cyber student and CLRI to NOVA IT employee.

 By Kristy Gillespie

Fatima Shareen is a recent NOVA cybersecurity graduate and now works as an Information Technology (IT) Support Technician at the bustling Woodbridge Campus, future site of NOVA’s Data Center Operations Training Facility and where NOVA’s Information and Engineering Technologies (IET) program is based.

Her current career pathway was trailblazed from her time as a Prince William County Schools (PWCS) IT intern when she was a NOVA student. From the beginning, the 150-hour internship at Forest Park High School provided flexibility as she could choose between an eight or six-hour day, giving her the freedom to efficiently manage her busy schedule at work and at George Mason University, where she is pursuing a cybersecurity bachelor degree.

Like many technology students at NOVA who are looking to develop their soft skills, Shareen previously completed NOVA IET’s Career & Leadership Readiness Institute (CLRI): “I loved the CLRI program. I actually enrolled twice because the instructors provided great support for the interview process and helped with resume building.”

Shereen highly recommends that NOVA IET students take advantage of CLRI so they have better internship opportunities, as being a CLRI grad played a pivotal role in securing her own PWCS intern spot.

Her key tasks during the internship included computer imaging (which involves the installation of operating systems, applications, and settings) and computer scripting for automating tasks in websites and web applications. She utilized Configuration Manager, a systems management software product, to handle a total of 3,000 laptops.

At Forest Park High School, Shereen progressed through her internship in a “warm and welcoming environment with supportive individuals.” One person who had a profound influence on her was Sylvia Avila, an IT Support Technician. “I’ve been working for the last six, seven years, but never encountered someone like her. She was simply amazing and incredibly helpful,” Shareen said.

The PWCS internship significantly bolstered her resume, enhanced her teamwork skills, expanded her IT knowledge, and provided valuable hands-on training. Shareen emphasized how those skills acquired during the internship continue to support her in her current career, particularly with diagnosing and resolving computer errors or technical issues: “If you are in the IT field, troubleshooting is the most important thing that you should know.”

Shareen has come full circle, from NOVA student to NOVA employee. Reflecting on those who made a positive impact during her time as a student, she singled out IET Professor Michael Spiller as her favorite instructor: “The way he taught was different from other teachers. He always showed up to class stating that he was the boss and we were his employees. I took 3 or 4 classes with him. He was amazing.”

In her professional environment, Shareen is keenly appreciative of NOVA’s “positive vibe,” with friendly people and job tasks similar to those performed during her internship.

Looking forward, Shareen aspires to venture into entrepreneurship and develop her own business, possibly through the Fulfillment by Amazon platform.

Shareen’s heartfelt message to NOVA students is: “your time at NOVA is an invaluable investment in your future, and I encourage you to approach it with dedication and belief in your capabilities.”

PWCS IT Internship Opportunities are currently available for NOVA students. Apply by December 13 through the NOVA Career Connection portal

More about NOVA IET at https://www.nvcc.edu/academics/divisions/iet/index.html

#Nighthawks #NOVAPride #InDemandTech #InformationTechnology #Internships #InformationTechnology

CLRI Hosts Women’s Mentoring Event

Joanna Bidlack, Senior VP of Human Resources at Leidos, inspires women to succeed.

 By Kristy Gillespie

Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to celebrate women in the field of Information Technology (IT). The IT industry is experiencing exponential growth in Northern Virginia, leading to an increasing demand for qualified employees. While there are fewer women than men in IT, companies are actively seeking diversity of thought, recognizing that women will bring new perspectives and innovative ideas to the IT sector.

In celebration of women in IT, NOVA’s Information and Engineering Technology (IET) division recently held its inaugural Women’s Mentoring Session at the Annandale campus as part of its Career and Leadership Readiness Institute (CLRI) program, which trains IET students in the soft skills needed to secure in-demand technology jobs.

Joanna Bidlack, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Leidos – Intelligence Group, is a powerhouse in her field and served as the distinguished guest speaker for the mentoring session. Although she has 15 years of experience in HR, her career began with an undergraduate degree in graphic design, whereafter she co-owned a business focused on graphic design and photography, alongside a grocery store management venture.

However, the unpredictability of entrepreneurship led her to pivot towards the stability of the local government field as she pursued and earned a graduate degree in Human Resources and Organizational Development.

At the mentoring event, Bidlack shared her wealth of knowledge with female IT students and graduates, covering a range of topics including details about her professional journey, finding support in a male-dominated IT field, and providing tips on resumes, interviews, and effective networking.

Careers Are Not Linear

With a confident smile, Bidlack explained, “Careers are not linear. You are going to pivot. You may find that what you go to school for is not exactly what you choose to do, and that is okay.”

As women progress in their careers, she suggests that they will encounter defining moments such as marriage, the birth of a child, changes in their current job, or other factors that prompt them to question their chosen path.

“Pay attention to these defining moments and assess your satisfaction with your current situation. It’s important to find happiness in your career. If you experience stress, frustration, a lack of appreciation, or poor treatment, summon the courage to make a change, or at least devise a plan for change.”

Don’t Limit Yourself

Acknowledging that men are often more inclined than women to apply for a position even if they don’t meet all the job requirements, Bidlack emphasized that while meeting the primary job requirements is key, it’s not necessary to fulfill every single one. Job requirements should be considered more as a wish list for the employer rather than a strict checklist of must-haves.

“If a position within your company aligns with your interests, make sure to inform your boss about your interest. Your boss won’t know unless you express it.

Instead of pondering ‘what if I can’t do it?, start asking yourself, ‘What if I can do it?’”

Additionally, if a woman fails to celebrate her successes, there’s a high probability that others may not notice them. She suggested that a great opportunity to highlight achievements is during an annual performance review, emphasizing the value of keeping track of accomplishments throughout the year to include them in the review.

Highlights or Gaps in the Resume

Bidlack highlights the value of proficiency in additional languages, particularly in the IT field. Many companies are willing to offer higher compensation for multilingual skills. Therefore, women should ensure to focus on this valuable skill on their resumes.

In addition, if there’s a gap in employment history and the hiring manager inquires about it, a simple explanation such as “for personal reasons” or “due to a family commitment” will suffice. “Remember, employers are not permitted to ask for specific details regarding your personal life,” she explained.

She stressed the importance for women to conduct thorough research on the business they are involved with. Understanding the mission, purpose, and operations of the company is critical. Taking the initiative to familiarize themselves with the business, rather than waiting for others to educate them, will significantly benefit their careers.

Preparing for the Interview

Bidlack, offered numerous constructive tips, stressed the value of thoroughly studying the job description before an interview. She advised identifying skills, recognizing gaps, and ensuring overall preparedness. Bidlack recommended creating an Excel spreadsheet to list job requirements alongside personal and professional experiences. This spreadsheet can spotlight transferable skills and assist in addressing gaps, either by acquiring certifications or discussing these during the interview with the hiring manager.

In addition, generating a list of potential questions based on the job description and practicing them through role-playing with a trusted friend or family member can significantly enhance a candidate’s readiness.

While a comprehensive understanding of the company isn’t necessary, she pointed out the importance of studying its website. Knowing core operations, unique initiatives, and how

the applied role aligns with the company is key. Such preparation not only fosters confidence but also helps in providing specific and relevant answers when asked about one’s interest in working for the company.

Moreover, taking the initiative to familiarize oneself with the business rather than waiting for others to educate will significantly benefit a candidate’s career. Requesting a copy of the questions beforehand is acceptable, as it’s essential to stay focused during the interview.

 Creating a Professional Brand

Bidlack emphasized that creating a successful professional brand is paramount for a woman’s career success. It encompasses how they interact with others, their communication style, attire, and work ethic. Women should reflect on what they want to be recognized for in their professional sphere.

Maintaining a professional appearance at work is essential. If a woman is unsure whether an outfit is too tight, short, or revealing, it’s best to opt for a more conservative choice.

Behaving appropriately in the workplace and at work-related events is vital. For instance, when alcoholic beverages are offered, it’s advisable to adhere to a two-drink limit.

“It takes a lifetime to build your professional brand. It takes one situation to tear it down. It’s one outfit. It’s one interaction. It’s one crying fit session that you have in somebody’s office because you didn’t get your way,” she said.

Create a Network

Both Nga Tran, a student in the Cloud Computing program, and Maya Figueroa, an Engineering Technology student, were most interested in networking tips.

Tran expressed, “The one thing I hope to get from today is to hear everyone’s stories and to keep going. You know, see where I fit in and see where I am in everyone’s stories.”

Mya asked, “Do you have any tips on networking and meeting people that will help you further your career?”

Bidlack explained how it’s important for women to establish a supportive network of professionals within their field, whom they can approach for assistance when needed and with whom they can celebrate their successes.

She recommended setting a goal to engage with three new individuals during work events instead of attempting to network with everyone. By doing so at each event, women will gradually build a more meaningful network.

Receiving Feedback

For many individuals, receiving positive feedback is motivating; however, not every employer will provide it. Nonetheless, the most impactful feedback comes from within. For women, striving to do their best is what truly matters.

She advised being open to feedback, even when it’s negative, as it offers an opportunity for growth. Women should consider insights from individuals, even those they may not prefer, as there’s always something to learn from it.

“The most successful people in the world have failed so many times. So what we do as women is we expect perfection from ourselves, but that’s not realistic. You have to go into your career knowing that you will fail. You will make mistakes. It’s normal. Everybody does. Make your mistake, let it sting for a minute, and move on,” she explained.

 You Will Never Be Liked by Everyone

She expressed that being universally liked, especially in higher positions within a company, is unlikely.

“If I’m liked by everyone, then I’m not doing my job as a leader,” she said.

However, the most important aspect is for women to appreciate and like themselves. Women should speak to themselves with the same kindness and support as they would to those they care about. When negative self-talk arises, women should remind themselves of their positive qualities. They should embrace their unique skills and the distinct way they perceive things; that’s what makes someone truly special.

Uncomfortable Situations

Unfortunately, there may be instances when a male coworker puts a female in an uncomfortable situation. In such cases, Bidlack suggests that women consider these steps:

  • Be direct: Clearly ask them to stop their behavior.
  • Physically take a step back or remove themselves from the situation.
  • If the discomfort happens in a group, address it privately by speaking to the coworker.
  • Discuss the issue with their manager.
  • If needed, approach the HR department. If it’s not available, inform the manager. If their concerns are not taken seriously, reconsider working in such an environment.

Ask for Help

Bidlack stated that despite the tendency among women to avoid seeking help, it’s crucial to ask for assistance before feeling overwhelmed. Women should focus on a few things they excel at and be recognized for those strengths. Attempting to handle everything often leads to inefficiency. Instead of solely working hard, aim to achieve specific goals.

Seizing Opportunities

Cloud Computing graduate Asma Eldahshory mentioned, “I’d like to get confidence even to apply. I never apply. I say, what if they interview me and I can’t do it?”

Bidlack recommends reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, which illustrates that many successful individuals simply seized opportunities they were given, while unsuccessful ones missed those chances.

When an opportunity arises, “what you choose to do with it will either propel you toward your goals or you’ll stop and stay where you’re at. What’s the worst thing that could happen? You fail? Well, we already know we’re going to fail at things. You’re going to make mistakes? Well, we already know we’re going to make mistakes. So what does it matter, right? Give it your all – what could happen is, you’re actually successful.”

Enthusiasm about New Tools

Shamalee Jayakodi, a NOVA cybersecurity student who attended the event, was effusive about what she’d learned and felt that the session was “an amazing experience. I had an opportunity to meet powerful women who have proved that there is no limit to what we, as a woman, can accomplish. We are stronger when we support each other and cheer each other on. I’m grateful to be part of the women mentoring community.”

Nga Tran, a Cloud Computing student at NOVA praised the outcomes of the event by describing it as a “welcoming and inspiring meeting for me and great working advice for women in technology. I found heartwarming story-sharing and encouragement from fellow peers. The struggles and passion are now not only mine but for all of us to share and overcome. I found friends here and we will continue to be each other’s support throughout the journey.”

Fab Lab Jan 2024

Fab Lab Offerings


NOVA Makers

NOVA Makers is a membership program, which opens the NOVA Fab Lab to NOVA Students, Faculty and Staff to work on personal projects during our Open Labs.

How does it work?

  1. Enroll in the NOVA Makers Course on Canvas.
  2. On Canvas, pass the online Safety Orientation Certification and fill out the release form, which will make you an official member!
  3. Come-in during open lab hours to use machines and equipment. If it is your first time visiting or you need some help, ask a NOVA Fab Lab staff member for assistance.

Membership Fee

NOVA Makers is free for NOVA students, faculty, and staff.

NOVA Makers Open Lab Hours

Monday | 5pm – 9pm
Tuesday | 1pm – 5pm
Wednesday | 1pm – 5pm
Thursday | 5pm – 9pm
Friday | 9am – 12pm, 5pm – 9pm


Product Design Incubator:

Do you have a brilliant idea for a new product? The NOVA Fab Lab is hosting a Product Design Incubator for NOVA students to learn design thinking, develop entrepreneurial skills, and prototype and build a product at the NOVA Fab Lab.

PDI participants will:

  • Learn entrepreneurship skills during 6 spring workshops.
  • Design and protype a product during a summer product design incubator.
  • Pitch a product to regional entrepreneurs
  • Receive a $3000 stipend for completion

You can complete a apply PDI application at fablab.novastem.us/PDIapply

PDI is possible thanks to a National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant.


 NOVA’s Junior Makers program creates a fun, social environment for our youngest generation of makers to be introduced to fabrication and to build confidence in their STEM and problem-solving skills!

We offer a wide range of topics and activities for 4th-8th grade students to create a unique project with their parent or guardian.

Spring 2024 sessions are now available on Saturday mornings from 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. For full details and registration, visit fablab.novastem.us/JrMaker

Activities:

February 10 – Casting Chocolate Legos (Vacuum Forming)

 February 24 – Soft Circuit Creatures (Circuitry & Hand Sewing) 

 March 9 – Build a Mini Greenhouse (Wood Working & Vacuum Forming)

March 23 – Animatronics Stuffed Animal (Coding & Microelectronics)

 April 6 – 3D Print a Monster (Clay Modeling & 3D Printing)

 April 20 – T-Shirt & Jewelry (UV Printing & Laser Cutting)

 May 4 – Build a Birdhouse – NEW! (Wood Working and Painting)

 May 18 – Stomp Rockets – NEW! (Design Thinking and Fabrication)

 June 1 – Laser Cut Airplanes – NEW! (Laser Cutting)

 June 15 – Sew a Custom Handbag – NEW! (Machine Sewing)